What are caffeine headaches

Understanding Caffeine Headache | American Migraine Foundation

Published: December 28, 2017

Does Caffeine Cause Migraine? Getting to Know Caffeine’s Varied Effects on Migraine

Caffeine is often cited as a headache trigger, but for some people with migraines, a cup of coffee can offer some relief in the midst of an attack. Still, others who have caffeine frequently can suffer migraine attacks triggered by caffeine withdrawal when they skip their morning cup of joe. Often, the key determining factor is the quantity of caffeine consumed: many over-the-counter migraine and headache medications contain caffeine as a key active ingredient, but it is typically included for its role in aiding the body’s absorption of these medicines rather than as a treatment itself.

Still, the line between how much coffee, tea or soda will relieve a headache versus the quantity that will cause one can vary widely from person to person, and depends on a variety of factors. Read on for tips on how to determine how much caffeine is right for your migraine management plan.

Understanding How Caffeine Affects You

Caffeine is a commonly-cited migraine food trigger, along with alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and MSG, but for some people small doses of caffeine can provide migraine relief. On the other end of the spectrum, people who consume large quantities of caffeine regularly may be at risk for withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit “cold turkey,” and that withdrawal can itself be a migraine trigger. Caffeine’s effects on an individual with migraines also depend on how much water that person drinks between cups. Coffee, tea or caffeinated soda can affect migraine symptoms indirectly by causing dehydration. You should try to drink at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day if you aren’t drinking caffeinated drinks; if you are, try to add a full glass for each cup to offset its dehydrating effects.

Caffeine Effects by Headache Type

While caffeine’s effects can vary based on both individual predispositions and behaviors, there are some known patterns in caffeine’s interaction with certain types of headaches. Doctors recommend that patients with episodic migraine limit their caffeine intake to one or two beverages daily (or 200mg caffeine). Patients with daily headaches should consider avoiding caffeine completely. Daily caffeine intake can also lead to medication overuse headache, otherwise known as “rebound” headaches, so if you rely heavily on migraine medications and are concerned about overuse, consider phasing out your coffee habit first.

How To Determine Your Caffeine Limits

Once you know how much caffeine you’re consuming and where it’s coming from, start to track your caffeine intake alongside your headache frequency. Do you get headaches after lunch, when you often have soda? Try having water instead the next day and see whether or not you have head pain that day. Is caffeine the active ingredient in the pain medication that’s most effective against your headaches? Swap a cup of coffee for your usual medicine and see if it provides the same relief. Do you tend to have headaches on days you skip your morning cup of coffee? You might be experiencing caffeine withdrawal, especially if having caffeine soon after provides relief.

Remember to be on the lookout for caffeine in unexpected places, including some teas, chocolate, non-cola sodas, and even decaf coffee. Check the ingredients in any medications you take. Also, consider that caffeine levels can vary widely between different types of coffee: a large McDonald’s brew contains 133mg of caffeine, while a venti at Starbucks has roughly 415mg of caffeine.

Reducing Caffeine Reliance

If you find your headaches are being triggered by caffeine withdrawal, don’t try to quit cold turkey: that’s a surefire recipe for more head pain. Reduce caffeine intake slowly, by 25% each week, to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Consider using an online caffeine calculator or talking to your doctor to figure out your daily caffeine use, then do the math to make sure you are scaling back safely. If you are making any changes in your behaviors regarding caffeine, it’s generally a good idea to drink more water to help mitigate caffeine’s effects—and simply because drinking enough water is part of practicing good headache hygiene.


The better you understand how the things you eat and drink affect your migraine, the more changes you can make to help reduce your headache attacks. Caffeine is one of many components in your diet that can influence your migraine: Download our free Meal Planning Toolkit to easily track your habits and learn how they influence your symptoms. Then, share your findings with a headache specialist to get a treatment plan designed just for you. Click here to find a nearby headache specialist today.

Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.

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How Caffeine May Help (and Cause) Headaches

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 25, 2022

In this Article

  • How Caffeine Helps
  • How Caffeine Hurts
  • What You Can Do

Everyone gets headaches from time to time. And most of us have caffeine in what we drink and eat every day. Have you considered whether there’s a connection? It’s possible for caffeine to both cause and cure a headache.

How Caffeine Helps

When your head hurts, you want relief fast. Whether it’s a run-of-the-mill tension headache or a migraine, caffeine can help. That’s why it’s an ingredient in a lot of popular pain relievers. It can make them as much as 40% more effective. Sometimes you can stop the pain in its tracks just by having caffeine alone.

Caffeine helps reduce inflammation, and that can bring relief. It also gives a boost to common headache remedies. Whether you use aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, they work faster and better and keep the pain away for longer when combined with caffeine.

A very rare condition called hypnic headaches responds especially well to caffeine. These strike older people, waking them in the middle of the night with severe pain. Doctors typically tell people who get these to have a cup of coffee before bed.

How Caffeine Hurts

Oddly enough, what makes caffeine effective in pain relief can also cause headaches.

Since caffeine narrows the blood vessels that surround your brain, when you stop taking it they expand again, and that can cause pain.

Withdrawal: It’s easy for your body to get so used to the effects of caffeine that when you don’t have it in your system, you have withdrawal. A headache is one of the symptoms. This can happen when you have caffeine regularly, even as little as a cup of coffee a day.

Too Much Medication: Caffeine can also a factor in what’s known as a medication overuse, or rebound headache. This can happen when you take too much of any kind of pain reliever or take it too often. When the medicine wears off, the pain comes back worse than before. When you combine caffeine with pain relievers this condition is more likely. 

What You Can Do

Be aware of how caffeine affects you, and pay attention to how much of it you drink and eat. If you get migraines, or if you find yourself having headaches frequently, you may want to try to cut down on caffeine or avoid it completely. It’s best to do that gradually. For example, if you normally have 2 cups of coffee in the morning, start by cutting back to one. If you quit suddenly, it can take up to a week to get past the withdrawal symptoms.

Keep track of your headaches and what seems to help. Get good sleep, and drink plenty of water. A nutritious diet and daily exercise can also help. Try to manage stress. You might be able to beat a headache with relaxation techniques, meditation, or massage instead of using medicine or caffeine.

How does caffeine affect the brain?

While pouring another cup of coffee, listen to your body.

Anna Zalesskaya

A familiar throbbing pain in the head that doesn't go away even if you actively rub your temples and stretch your neck. Sometimes the day starts with it, you just have to open your eyes and lift your head from the pillow. There can be a lot of reasons for a headache: we didn’t get enough sleep, worked until late in the evening, watched a series until dawn, experienced stress and intense tension. Or maybe you just didn't have time to drink your morning coffee?

Headache "caffeine addicts"

Constant throbbing headache sometimes due to lack or overdose of caffeine. It may appear if you drank too much coffee, exceeding your daily allowance, or, conversely, for some reason, could not drink your favorite drink on time. Sometimes headaches happen on a day off, on vacation or on holidays, when the usual routine changes, it becomes possible to relax, sleep longer and, accordingly, not take your usual dose.

What is the reason for this reaction of the organism? Studies have revealed a number of interesting facts: caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain, which gradually gets used to it. When you don't drink your daily serving of coffee, the blood vessels dilate and your brain suddenly fills with blood, which causes a headache.

Does caffeine help relieve headaches?

Yes, you may have noticed that when a headache starts, it is enough to drink a cup of coffee to improve the condition. Some over-the-counter pain medications also contain caffeine. Sometimes a cup of coffee combined with a pain reliever can help relieve the symptoms, but the problem is that caffeine can cause headaches on its own, which complicates things.

This is because vasoconstriction is far from the only effect coffee has on the brain. It also affects the energy metabolism in the brain by blocking the access of glucose to the cells, which they use as an energy source. That is why when you drink a cup of espresso for breakfast without eating anything, you can feel trembling, nervousness, nausea and, in addition, a headache. Your brain simply isn't getting the energy it needs to function properly. Drinking coffee for breakfast, you want to quickly cheer up, but you achieve exactly the opposite result.

What else does caffeine do to the body and why does it become addictive?

When asked why they drink coffee, many coffee lovers will answer: it gives us vigor and concentration! Whether you've tried this drink for the first time, or haven't been drinking it for more than two months, your alertness is indeed due to the biochemical properties of caffeine. However, over time, the body develops a habit. Caffeine no longer triggers the mechanism of increased production of dopamine, which causes a more active brain. And nerve cells make you more sensitive to all stimuli, causing headaches.

How do I deal with caffeine withdrawal headaches?

The first thing to do is to try to find out if your headache is really related to not drinking coffee. If you drink it on an empty stomach and do not eat anything at the same time, the problem is not a lack of caffeine, but that it prevents the brain from receiving energy. In most cases, you can feel better if you just eat something.

As for those moments when you stay up all night, maintaining strength only with the help of coffee, then you still have to sleep and drink water to get rid of dehydration. Replace coffee with water and go to bed. Believe that this will help the body much more than another cup.

Drinking coffee in large quantities every day, you drown out the accumulated fatigue, deceiving your body. He is simply not able to tell you: stop, it's time to rest.

Does caffeine help with headaches?

Everything is very individual here. About 60% of people in Europe and America drink coffee daily, and many of them consume caffeine in excessive amounts throughout the day. There are many people among coffee lovers who really do feel better with the drink, but no less than those who feel headaches, anxiety, fatigue and nausea because of coffee.

How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Only you can understand how coffee affects your body. Should you resort to caffeine as a pain reliever? Also your decision.

It makes no sense to read endless articles about the benefits of caffeine if you feel uncomfortable after drinking coffee. In any case, coffee should not be consumed in excess. Limit intake to 200 mg, which is a maximum of 2 cups per day. It is better not to swallow it immediately in large mugs, but to distribute the intake of caffeine in small portions in the first half of the day.

Stop drinking coffee at least 7-8 hours before bedtime, otherwise caffeine will interfere with sleep.

If you decide to quit caffeine, you need to take it step by step. For starters, reduce the number of daily servings. Drink four cups a day, reduce to three a week, then two, etc. In this case, the headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal should not be too pronounced. It will be possible to feel the effect after complete cancellation after three to four weeks. According to experts, about 70% of people who completely give up caffeine stimulants feel a huge difference and note that headaches stop.

Migraine, headache and caffeine | Articles

Caffeine Migraine

Caffeine can both improve and worsen the condition of people suffering from headaches. In some cases, it can serve as a remedy, or vice versa, it can cause the headaches to recover.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a widely used drug that increases focus, reduces fatigue, and improves muscle coordination. While coffee comes to mind when thinking about the most common source of caffeine, it is also found in abundance in foods such as tea and chocolate.

It is often added to soft drinks and over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers and cold remedies. All people have different susceptibility to caffeine. If you get too much caffeine, it can cause anxiety, sleep disturbances, and even muscle cramps or stomach pain.

Headache treatment with caffeine


is a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache medications.

Adding caffeine

  • increases the effectiveness of painkillers in the treatment of headaches by 40%.
  • promotes better absorption of these drugs by the body.
  • allows you to limit yourself to a smaller amount of the drug to achieve the desired effect.
  • reduces the risk of possible side effects and drug addiction.

Some products containing caffeine:

  • Milk chocolate, hot chocolate and other chocolate drinks;
  • Cocoa blends, malt powder;
  • Cola and other carbonated drinks;
  • Tea;
  • coffee liqueurs;
  • All chocolate products, including pastries, cakes and eclairs;
  • Chocolate ice cream or puddings;

Withdrawal syndrome

In general, withdrawal syndrome is a rather rare occurrence, even for avid caffeine drinkers. However, if you consume it in excess (more than 500 mg per day, which is about the equivalent of five cups of coffee) for a long period of time, and then suddenly stop, the withdrawal syndrome may take its toll.

Learn more